There’s been an intense debate over Allison Benedikt’s essay about falling out of love with Israel, to which Jeffrey Goldberg and Rabbi Andy Bachman, among others, have written strong rebuttals. But Goldberg posted something — a response to a defense of Benedikt by Andrew Sullivan (I know — confusing) – that resonated strongly with me, an American Jew devoted to Israel but eager for it to resolve the dire issues that will inevitably erode its standing as a Jewish and democratic state.
Here’s Goldberg, explaining his pique with Benedikt:
The outrage [at Benedikt] comes [from] the fact that many of us — I would dare say most American Jews — believe that you just don’t get to walk away. I believe — not just me, this is one of the messages of the Passover seder — that all Jews are responsible for each other. This means when you believe a Jew (or, say, a Jewish state) is going astray, you are duty-bound to intervene. Abandoning Israel, abandoning the Jewish people, is abandoning your own family. As Andy Bachman noted, it is a rabbinic dictum that, “all of Israel (read, ‘the Jewish people’) are responsible for one another.”
Nearly half of the world’s Jews live in Israel. They are the descendants of refugees from the pogroms; from the great Arab expulsions; and from the Shoah. They are our brothers and sisters. We may not like what they do. We may find them, as Allison Benedikt clearly does, aesthetically displeasing. But they are ours. We don’t abandon them. This is one of the reasons I admire groups like J Street the New Israel Fund. Their members could have made the decision to wash their hands of what they see as a terrible mess. But they haven’t. They understand their responsibilities as Jews, to Jews (and to the world, which is the great, difficult balancing act of being Jewish: Caring specifically for Jews, and caring specifically for the entire world, at the same time). I might not agree with many of the positions these groups take, but they are fighting for their vision of Judaism and Zionism.
Allison Benedikt, on the other hand, has given up. She revels in her alienation, which, as she freely admits, was provoked by her non-Jewish and quite hostile husband.
I would add this: Benedikt, like too many of Israel’s critics, treats it as an Idea, not a Country of 7 million. They’ve soured on the Idea, and now wish that it disappear, like a once fashionable diet plan or a teenage infatuation with Goth. Goldberg is arguing that we engage with the Fact of Israel, not the Theory. Not every facet of that fact is pretty or defensible, but we don’t have the luxury of wishing away that discomfort. If we care enough to be discomforted, then we should care enough to choose and to support those who are advocating the changes we would like to see — and acknowledge, as mature and thinking adults, the real-life challenges that make those changes so difficult to bring about.